Directed by supervisors, miners at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch Mine commonly disabled monitors that could detect methane gas before the explosion that killed 29 in April. An investigation by NPR has “documented an incident in February 2010 in which an Upper Big Branch electrician was ordered to circumvent the automatic shutoff mechanism on a methane detector installed on a continuous mining machine.” Ricky Lee Campbell, a 24-year-old coal shuttle driver and roof bolter who witnessed the incident, told NPR they circumvented the safety device so that they could “continue to run coal”:
Everybody was getting mad because the continuous miner kept shutting off because there was methane. So, they shut the section down and the electrician got into the methane detector box and rewired it so we could continue to run coal.
There were dozens of such incidents, NPR reports. Maintenance foreman Clay Mullins told NPR he “believed miners could run mining machines temporarily with disabled monitors because that’s what the mine’s foreman and superintendent told him.”
Don Blankenship, the CEO of Massey Energy, was caught with a 2006 memo that told workers faced with safety rules, “you need to ignore them and run coal” because “coal pays the bills.”
Gov. Joe Manchin’s (D-WV) special investigator has found that the April 5 explosion “was so large and powerful that it ripped through more than 2 1/2 miles of underground tunnels ‘in an instant.’” No charges have yet been brought against Massey Energy or its management for the fatal incident.
Meanwhile, four activists — 22-year-old Kathryn Huszcza, 22-year-old Colin Flood, 20-year-old Sophie Kern and 22-year-old James Tobias — “are in jail following a protest in which two chained themselves to a highwall miner at a Massey Energy surface mine in Raleigh County.” Massey Energy is the largest mountaintop removal company in the United States.